IDs crisis: Thousands of Basotho service seekers set to be stranded



MASERU – More than 170 000 Basotho will fail to access daily services indefinitely because their expired identity cannot be renewed. About 179,515 national identity (ID) card holders are set to encounter frustration and impediments in accessing essential services within the next month, as they will be unable to renew their identity cards.

This is because the Ministry of Local Government, Chieftainship, Home Affairs, and Police lacks the necessary budget for procuring national IDs. Among these ID holders, 179,515 cards are due to expire this year, with a significant more expiring next year. Additionally, an undisclosed number of individuals are reaching the age of 16, making them eligible for identity documents, further exacerbating the demand.

During a session with Parliament’s portfolio committee on Law and Public Safety Cluster this week, Home Affairs Minister, Lebona Lephema highlighted the financial constraints faced by the ministry, impeding its ability to fulfil its obligations. These obligations include the timely delivery of passports and identity documents.

Lephema attributed the financial challenges to a ceiling imposed by the ministry of development planning and finance during the budget preparation process. In response to the shortfall, the ministry aims to secure additional funding from the contingency fund to bridge the gap. However, it is likely that the contingency funds will primarily be allocated to procure additional passports, further complicating the situation.

The Ministry’s Principal Secretary (PS), ’Mamphaka Mabesa, acknowledged that while their budget allocation for the 2024–25 fiscal year allows for the procurement of 60,000 passports, there is a pressing need for 150,000. Consequently, the ministry lacks the necessary budgetary means but intends to seek additional funding from the contingency fund.

Conversely, the procurement of IDs has not been accounted for in the budget due to financial constraints. Litšoane Keketsi from the National Identity and Civil Registration (NICR) informed the committee that not a single ID was procured during the previous fiscal year of 2022-2023 due to budgetary limitations.

The current budget has no allocation for ID procurement. As of Tuesday, April 15, only 1,560 IDs were available in stock, therefore only cases deemed emergencies are receiving attention. Consequently, applicants for ID booklets who apply after the depletion of the current stock of 1,560 IDs will be unable to obtain their identity documents.

Keketsi said while IDs are still being issued, they are rationed due to the prevailing crisis. Priority is given to urgent cases, such as students and individuals requiring IDs for employment purposes. NICR district managers hold the discretion to determine the most deserving applicants for urgent ID issuance.

The minister highlighted that no funding has yet been secured to address the challenges confronting his ministry, urging the committee members to support requests for additional funding. Regarding passport issuance, he explained: “We are not operating at full capacity; we are printing passports only to meet the needs of individuals requiring urgent access to essential services.”

He further noted that the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has committed to providing financial assistance and technical expertise in the future, particularly in implementing e-governance solutions for passport applications and facilitating cross-border movement. The integration of e-governance aims to mitigate cross-border challenges and ensure prompt delivery of travel and identity documents to citizens.

The leader of the Basotho National Party (BNP), Machesetsa Mofomobe urged Minister Lephema to formally recognise the ministry’s challenges as a crisis, advocating for the mobilisation of all available resources to address the issue. He informed Lephema and the committee that the ongoing passport and ID challenges are also affecting numerous Basotho working in the neighbouring South Africa, as valid passports are required to maintain their work permits.

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